In Light of Health Concerns, Some People Eat Local
With recalls and some federal USDA food inspections on hold prior to the government shutdown ending last week, many Americans — including people in Emporia — are getting to know their local growers or even growing their own.
Gail Fuller, one of the owners of G & L Whole Food, is one of those local producers. He produces and markets meat such as grass-finished beef, grass-finished lamb, pastured pork and chicken and fresh eggs. The business, which is located on Road M outside Emporia, is working on adding more products, such as wheat flour, corn flour, cornmeal and honey to its repertoire.
According to Fuller, there are advantages of buying from local producers, including ease of access.
“They can ask questions about practices or principals of the farm or the farmer — how their food was grown,” he said. “Second of all, you can read all the ingredients on the list of our stuff and pronounce it and understand — know what it is.”
Food safety is another area, he said, where small, local farms may have an advantage over factory-produced items which might end up in supermarkets.
While some food inspections were halted on a federal level during the shutdown, Fuller said all his meat was run through a USDA-inpsected facility and that, as he understood, his inspector was still on the job.
“The last meat that we had butchered was inspected and we were told that the upcoming appointment we have, that meat will be inspected as well,” he said.
Fuller also believes locally-grown food may have a nutritional advantage over supermarket produce — specifically nutrient density.
“There’s a huge difference between ‘healthier’ and ‘nutrient density,’” he said. “There’s a lot of research out there that shows that almost all the food we’re consuming today has lost a huge chunk of the nutrient density value of that food in the last 50 to 75 years. In fact, I’ve got a friend that was in Florida a couple weeks ago, working with some orange groves and those producers told him that they’re gonna remove vitamin c from the label of orange juice in the next couple years.”
This is something, Fuller said, that’s being seen across the board with produce of all types and in all price ranges, from organic to conventionally grown goods.
He chalks this up to how the food was raised.
“There’s minerals taken out of the soil — minerals and vitamins — that goes into the plant,” Fuller said. “Whether it’s grass or grain or fruit or whatever. But how that mineral gets into the plant is through the micro biome — the microbial fungi — that makes the connection with the plant, and that highway has been broken between chemicals and tillage. And so we’re not getting the nutrient value in the food that we used to. Personally, it’s my belief that’s part of why we have a major health crisis today.”
Fuller said his farm went no-till in 1994 and, over the past decade, he has cut back on chemicals and fertilizers to the point where he uses almost none. The farm no longer uses insecticides and fungicides.
“We’re trying not to disturb the soil,” he said. “We’re trying to promote healthy soil. We’re trying to emulate how mother nature managed this prairie 500 years ago.”
According to Fuller, eating local — and eating in season — is key to solving some of the problems caused by unsustainable farming practices that have taken hold in recent history.
“As a consumer, we’ve gotten pretty demanding to have stuff on the shelf 24/7, 365,” he said.
This includes out-of-season items — think fresh strawberries at the height of winter.
“Obviously, we can’t grow oranges or tomatoes year ‘round outside of doing it in green houses,” Fuller said. “So a lot of this stuff is being grown either indoors or it’s not getting sunlight or (it’s) being harvested prematurely and put into storage and plants are being bred more for shelf life than flavor or nutrition.”
Fuller believes eating in season will help people get more nutritional value from their food.
He strongly encourages others to grow food for themselves.
“We’ve got to start getting some food security,” Fuller said. “We have way too many food deserts. People should be growing some of their food in their yards — at least part of it.”
Decades ago, he said, it wasn’t uncommon to see people with large kitchen gardens and chickens — or even pigs — in their yards.
While this might not be feasible for everyone, there are everyday Emporians leaning toward growing some of their own produce.
Emporian Marcia Lawrence has gardened off and on all her life. In light of recent lettuce recalls, she decided to buy a cold frame so she could grow her own salad greens. She has several herbs, lettuce and kale. Kale, she said is an especially hardy green. It hardly thrives in cold weather, but it can certainly survive it, if it’s in a sheltered area.
For her, she said, growing her own is a small step in protecting her own health.
“While I can’t grow all my food — I wouldn’t be interested in growing all my food — there are a few things like salad greens that are really easy to grow,” Lawrence said. “I have always grown salad greens and I just came back to it with renewed enthusiasm this year — especially after the romaine recall.”
She doesn’t want to grow a ton of food. The cold frame contains about 10 plants.
“I’m not growing for market; I’m growing for my personal consumption,” Lawrence said. “It’s fairly irresponsible of me to grow things that I would throw away.”
She finds a great deal of personal satisfaction, she said, in the feeling of self-sufficiency that comes from growing her own food.
“I think it’s important to do things for yourself, to become a bit more self-reliant,” Lawrence said. “It’s really important to me and people — we’re going into a recession. I mean, I’m a former stock broker. Everybody knows we’re going into a recession.”
Food security makes her feel safer in uncertain economic times.
“What I come away with is the importance of knowing where your food comes from,” Lawrence said. “That’s really crucial to me.”
Both growing food and buying from local producers can cost money — sometimes more than someone might spend at a supermarket — but Lawrence feels it’s worth the extra cost.
“The food tastes better,” Lawrence said. “As a discerning cook, it’s very important for me to have high-quality ingredients even for every day. And while it may be a little more expensive, in the long run, I didn’t have to go to the emergency room, I didn’t have to go buy Immodium, and I didn’t miss any work, because my lettuce doesn’t make me sick. So even if it appears to cost a little bit more, it really doesn’t in the long run.”
The winter farmers market takes place at Waters True Value on the first and third Saturday of the month through April, after which the summer market begins.
The market provides a SNAP machine so people can use their benefits, if they wish, to purchase fresh produce at the market.
According to President of the Emporia Farmers Market board and longtime vendor Wanda Myers, the market participates in the double up food bucks program.
“It’s a good opportunity for people that do have the SNAP program to come down and get some local, fresh food,” she said.